Hike 0.7 miles on the easy-to-moderate Byron Herbert Reece Trail in Union County, Georgia, to see wilderness and the Appalachian Trail approach.
By Tim Homan
This trail, formerly known as the Blood Mountain Spur Trail, has been renamed the Byron Herbert Reece Trail. Because of its new name, it might be confused with the Byron Reece Nature Trail in Vogel State Park, a short, interpretive loop trail. Both memorialize the same man, a native Union County poet and farmer who was born in Choestoe in the shadow of Blood Mountain. This is the trail to take if you want to walk the Appalachian Trail to the west, toward the Freeman Trail and Blood Mountain.
The Byron Herbert Reece Trail quickly tunnels through a thicket of mountain laurel and rosebay rhododendron, crosses one of the headwater forks of Shanty Branch, then gently rises beside the other fork. At 0.2 mile the path (at a double blaze) curls away from the stream and begins the first of two switchbacks that climb to an old roadbed at 0.4 mile. After a gentle 0.1 mile, the spur angles away from the road and ascends moderately through a forest with a predominantly oak canopy and white pine understory. Byron Herbert Reece soon dead-ends at the Appalachian Trail, forming a three-way T-intersection on the Blood Mountain side of Flatrock Gap (3,420 feet). To the left it is 1.0 mile to Neels Gap; to the right, it is 1.5 miles and 1,040 feet up to the top of Blood Mountain (4,461 feet), the highest peak on the AT in Georgia.
The Georgia Appalachian Trail Club built the Byron Herbert Reece Trail, and they did an excellent job; the trail is wide, well marked and easily followed. The GATC constructed this spur trail to alleviate car and hiker congestion at Neels Gap. They urge Blood Mountain and Freeman Trail day hikers to begin their walk at the Byron Reece Picnic Area (3,040 feet) rather than at Neels Gap. The Byron Herbert Reece Trail is shorter and only slightly steeper than the AT from Neels Gap (3,109 feet).
The Byron Herbert Reece Trail is entirely within the 7,800-acre Blood Mountain Wilderness.
The Byron Herbert Reece Memorial Picnic Area is located on the west side (left if you are heading north) of US 19-129. From Turners Corner, where US 19 joins US 129, continue north on US 19-129 for approximately 8.3 miles (0.5 mile past Neels Gap), then turn onto the second road downhill from the gap. The parking area is halfway around a oneway loop; the unmistakable trailhead is slightly farther along the loop.
From the Blairsville square, travel south on US 19-129 for approximately 12.5 miles to the memorial loop.
Do not park at the Walasi-Yi Center and hike the AT from Neels Gap; parking in front of the store is for customers only.
This hiking guide to the Byron Herbert Reece Trail is adapted from The Hiking Trails of North Georgia by Tim Homan and is published in cooperation with the publisher, Peachtree Publishers. With his meticulous attention to detail and accuracy, Homan has long been recognized as the authority on North Georgia hiking trail by serious hikers. His other books include Hiking Trails of Joyce Kilmer-Slickrock and Citico Creek Wilderness, Hiking the Shining Rock and Middle Prong Wilderness and others. For a complete inventory of his books see his Amazon Author Page. For an inventory of Peachtree Publishers books including its Nature books for children, go to the Peachtree Publishers website.